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Jury selection begins slowly in Trump Org. tax fraud trial

<i>Spencer Platt/Getty Images</i><br/>Trump Tower
Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Trump Tower

By Kara Scannell

The Trump Organization tax fraud trial in Manhattan got underway Monday to start a process lawyers hope can result in an impartial jury seated by the end of the week.

The judge swore in a panel of 130 prospective jurors Monday morning and by lunch had dismissed nearly half of them over scheduling disputes or bias that was expressed in a private room without media present.

After the lunch break the judge began questioning several jurors in open court and dismissed one, a case worker from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, who answered yes to a question asking if she would be biased against Trump. A dozen other jurors questioned said they either had opinions but could set them aside and be unbiased or had no problem being fair and impartial.

Michael van der Veen, an attorney for one of the Trump entities charged, said Tuesday’s focus will be weeding out any bias among the prospective jurors.

“Tomorrow we’ll really be sludging through and getting down to people’s interests and whether they can be fair or not. That’s really where we’re going to be going tomorrow,” van der Veen said outside of court Monday.

He added that he hopes they will complete jury selection by Friday.

Tuesday lawyers for the prosecution and Trump Organization will be given 30 minutes each to quiz the individuals. A new panel of jurors is expected to be sworn in late morning as they move closer to selecting 12 jurors plus a handful of alternates to hear the evidence in the trial that could last at least five weeks.

Two Trump Organization entities are charged with nine counts of tax fraud, grand larceny and falsifying business records in what prosecutors allege was a 15-year scheme to defraud tax authorities by failing to report and pay taxes on compensation provided to employees.

The Trump Organization has pleaded not guilty and has said the prosecution is politically motivated.

In a brief hearing before jury selection began Monday, Judge Juan Merchan polled prosecutors and Trump defense attorneys about the length of their cases.

Joshua Steinglass, one of the prosecutors, said they expect to take 10 court days to present their evidence in addition to however long it would take Trump attorneys to cross examine witnesses.

Susan Necheles, an attorney for the Trump Organization, said the only witness they intend to call is an expert witness, which could take one day.

She added if the prosecution doesn’t call some of their witnesses, those may be called by the defense.

A second Trump attorney said they would need three to five days.

The judge said he will tell the jury the trial may last five to six weeks.

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